For the rural dwelling wild food fan, early autumn is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the year. With a profoundly disappointing summer (how I despise living up to the stereotype of an Englishman talking about the weather but it is relevant, and, according to anthropologists, performs an important social function but we’ll ignore that for the moment) the leaves have turned earlier and the hedgerows are positively aching under the weight of countless blackberries, the branches of apple trees bow thanks to the sheer number of fruit and the white flowers of the elder have turned into full clusters of tiny, deep purple berries. There is a banquet just waiting to be collected.
And so that’s exactly what we did.
The countryside that surrounds our house is vast and empty with numerous pathways and hedgerows crossing the fields from which to gather this wonderful bounty free of charge. We went out a couple of weeks ago armed with no more than a couple of bags and a keen eye and came back laden with tasty goodies.
Even though it was early and many of the blackberries on the brambles were little more than tightly packed red nuggets, there were a good number that were fully ripe, deep in colour and delightfully sweet. By the time we’d half filled a bag, my fingers (and lips) were stained with a familiar purple that beautifully illustrates the season.
The fruit of the blackthorn, also known as sloes, was also ripe and ready to be picked over to make a batch of sloe vodka. The hidden thorns can be a pain and I regretted not packing any gloves but the haul was worth getting scratched for, certainly enough to make a litre, or so, of sweet and leg-wobblyingly strong vodka that should be ready by this time next year.
We also came across two walnut trees whose fruit, the same colour as the leaves, was hidden within the thick canopy above us. It was hard work and involved a great deal of jumping and grabbing of branches but we ended up with two or three kilos of unripe walnuts (that bare no resemblance to the wrinkled little brains that they become once they’ve been cracked) to pickle, providing the shells haven’t begun to form.
Finally, we couldn’t pass up the thousands of elderberries that seemed to be covering every other tree along our route. By the time we returned home we had an entire bag full of bunches of these tiny little berries.
The plan was to transform this haul of fresh, seasonal produce, along with the glut of courgettes from the garden, into a series of jams, pickles, jellies, alcoholic drinks and chutneys, so after a trip to the supermarket to buy the necessary items we set to work…